This is going to be a short post. Meditations, from Marcus Aurelius (He touched me on the shoulder once), is one of those books I've read dozens of times and refer to with regularity. It's a treasure trove of profound and useful thoughts. Here is one of those thoughts:
Langston Hughes was a superb poet who wrote about struggle in a time when things were far worse than they are today. This a particularly powerful piece that describes my feelings on what we are going through and what we need to do moving forward:
Cape Town, Atlanta,
The earth around
Dying - for what?
A world to gain.
Waiting - for what?
A world to gain.
Dreams kicked asunder,
Why not go under?
There's a world to gain.
But suppose I don't want it,
Why take it?
To remake it.
- Langston Hughes, Question and Answer
Why take it? That's a good question. We want revolution. We want sweeping change. We want our entire society to be fair and balanced. Why should we tolerate anything less? To remake it. This of course is the hard truth.
Think of the Grand Canyon and the constant flow of water that created it. It's the same consistent effort of people who want to remake the world that will create the future we want. We need to understand that change won't appear at once - no matter how clever the memes we post may be. There will be set backs, but the consistent focus on growth and change does work.
Focus on fixing what you can fix and contributing what you can contribute. Be the example and understand that if you are able to do that, we will eventually get the "Grand Canyon" we are after.
Ryan Holiday is someone I've followed for quite some time. His bio is everywhere and it's linked here. I encourage you to check out his stuff. Why? Because he is one of the clearest thinkers writing today. What does that mean? It means that if most people did what he's done over the past 10 years they would be complete ego-maniacs - and he's not. He has been strategic and clear headed while designing his life and career and it's paid off handsomely.
His latest book, Ego is the Enemy, is by far his best work. I have no reason to hype this book. I don't know the man, I don't get any sort of significant affiliate revenue from linking to the book. I just really, really like this book and I think you will too.
The book is divided into 3 sections: Aspire, Success, and Failure. He offers great examples from history and even his own life in explaining how in each phase of our life (aspiring, succeeding, and failing) ego can hold us back from getting what we truly want. He makes it very clear that he's not talking about ego in the Freudian sense. He's talking about what you and I see every single day (sometimes in our own behavior) - people who think they are more important than they really are, smarter, better looking, etc.
Just go out and buy the book. It's a good one. Below I've listed some of my favorite excerpts from each section.
"Our cultural values almost try to make us dependent on validation, entitled, and ruled by our emotions. For a generation, parents and teachers have focused on building up everyone's self esteem. From there, the themes of our gurus and public figures have been almost exclusively aimed at inspiring, encouraging, and assuring us that we can do whatever we set our minds to. In reality, this makes us weak. Yes, you, with all your talent and promise as a boy wonder or a girl-who's-going-places."
"Pride and ego say:
- I am an entrepreneur because I struck out on my own.
- I am going to win because I am currently in the lead.
- I am a writer because I published something.
- I am rich because I made some money.
- I am special because I was chosen.
- I am important because I think I should be.
At one time or another, we all indulge this sort of gratifying label making. Yet every culture seems to produce words of caution against it. Don't count your chickens before they hatch. Don't cook the sauce before catching the fish. the way to cook a rabbit is first to catch a rabbit. Game slaughtered by words cannot be skinned. Punching above your weight is how you get injured. Pride goeth before the fall.
Let's call that attitude what it is: fraud. If you're doing the work and putting in the time, you won't need to cheat, you won't need to over compensate. "
"At the end, this isn't about deferring pride because you don't deserve it yet. It isn't 'Don't boast about what hasn't happened yet.' It is more directly 'Don't boast.' There's nothing in it for you."
"Each of us faces a threat as we pursue our craft. Like sirens on the rocks, ego sings a soothing, validating song - which can lead to a wreck. The second we let the ego tell us that we have graduated, learning grinds to a halt. That's why Frank Shamrock said,'Always stay a student.' As in, it never ends.
The solution is as straightforward as it is initially uncomfortable: Pick up a book on a topic you know next to nothing about. Put yourself in rooms where you're the least knowledgeable person. That uncomfortable feeling, that defensiveness that you feel when your most deeply held assumptions are challenged - what about subjecting yourself to it deliberately? Change your mind. Change your surroundings.
An amateur is defensive. The professional finds learning (and even occasionally, being shown up) to be enjoyable; they like being challenged and humbled, and engage in education as an ongoing and endless process. "
"Instead of pretending that we are living some great story, we must remain focused on the execution - and on the executing with excellence. We must shun the false crown and continue working on what got us here.
Because that's the only thing that will keep us here."
"Feel unprotected against the elements or forces or surroundings. Remind yourself how pointless it is to rage and fight and try to one-up those around you. Go and put yourself in touch with the infinite, and end our conscious separation from the world. Reconcile yourself a bit better with the realities of life. Realize how much came before you, and how only wisps of it remain.
Let the feeling carry you as long as you can. Then when you start to feel better or bigger than, go and do it again."
"...there are two types of time in our lives: dead time, when people are passive and waiting, and alive time, when people are learning and acting and utilizing every second. Every moment of failure, every moment or situation that we did not deliberately choose or control, presents this choice: Alive time. Dead time. Which will it be?"
"The world is, after all, indifferent to what we humans 'want.' If we persist in wanting, in needing, we are simply setting ourselves up for resentment or worse. Doing the work is enough."
"Our expectations and exaggerations and lack of restraint made such moments inevitable, ensuring that it would be painful. Now it's here, what will you make of it? You can change, or you can deny.
Vince Lombardi said this once: 'A team, like men, must be brought to its knees before it can rise again.' So yes, hitting bottom is as brutal as it sounds.
But the feeling after - it is one of the most powerful perspectives in the world. President Obama described it as he neared the end of his tumultuous, trying terms. 'I've been in the barrel tumbling down Niagara Falls and I emerged, and I lived, and that's such a liberating feeling.'"
There is a lot more great stuff in the book and I genuinely hope you get it. After you buy it - read it, and then read it again.
This post was written because I overheard a few guys talking about various conspiracy theories about who really rules the world. It was fun to listen to, and I noticed that the Rockefeller family came up more than once. As I've mentioned before, one of my favorite biographies is Ron Chernow's fascinating portrait of the man, the myth, and the legend, John Rockefeller. Curiously (or not so curiously) the things that I find most interesting about the man, weren't discussed in the conspiracy theory conversation.
I don't know if a select few families rule the world and I don't really care. Say they do, how does that affect my life? The answer is not at all. What can affect my life are the things I learn and apply from the books I read. I will leave the conspiracy theories and the Illuminati to other people and focus on the fascinating and useful aspects of John Rockefeller's life.
Rockefeller started working at 16 as a book keeper after one of the most famous job searches in American history. He walked around Cleveland, OH for almost 2 months going from business to business looking for work, until someone gave him a shot. Once he got his job, he attacked it with vigor - starting work at 6:30 am and working well into the evening. In a journal entry from this time, he resolved to himself to start going home earlier, so he set 10 pm as a cut-off time - and had trouble sticking to it.
When his church was faced with foreclosure, the twenty year old Rockefeller jumped into action. In recalling the ordeal he said, "The plan absorbed me, I contributed what I could, and my first ambition to earn money was aroused by this and similar undertakings in which I was constantly engaged." In a few months he raised the $2,000 and saved the church.
Few men in American history have been as hated as John Rockefeller. Most of the bad things said about him are either true or have bits of truth in them. The one thing that never changed in his 98 years was his mental toughness under extreme scrutiny. He said, "You can abuse me, you can strike me, so long as you let me have my own way."
Cool Under Pressure:
Chernow writes, "As always, the greater the tumult, the cooler Rockefeller became, and a strange calm settled over him when his colleagues were most disconcerted." Rockefeller's greatest strength might have been keeping clear thinking in chaotic situations. No incident illustrates this as well as the depression of 1873. In this econominc down turn the price of oil was plummeting, but because of Rockefeller's stewardship Standard Oil had significant cash reserves. While other companies were struggling and looking to sell at extremely low prices, Rockefeller was there ready to buy. In this time of turmoil he began the most aggressive expansion of his business.
Work Life Balance:
While Rockefeller was no stranger to hard work, as his family and business grew, he made sure to take time for both and avoid burn-out. He apparently, "worked at a more leisurely pace than many other executives, napping daily after lunch and often dozing in a lounge chair after dinner." While his later accounts of his leisurely existence were almost certainly overstated, there's no doubt that he placed great importance on rest, relaxation, and physical exertion. He was quoted as saying, "It is remarkable how much we all could do if we avoid hustling and go along at an even pace and keep from attempting too much." That sounds like it could've been written on a blog post today. He was living proof that real consistency day in and day out were more powerful than sporadic bursts of inspiration.
At twenty nine years old, Rockefeller was visiting New York City to meet with various heads of the railroads to secure the terms for shipping his oil. When seventy four year old O.G. Cornelius Vanderbilt summoned Rockefeller and his partner to his office, Rockefeller declined and didn't go to the meeting. Instead, he sent a reply message to the seventy four year old "emperor of the railroad world," to come to him. He knew that Vanderbilt needed his business more than he needed Vanderbilt's railroad and he wanted to flex his muscles. I don't care what century it is - being a young twenty-something upstart, demanding the preeminent businessman of your era to come to you to discuss terms takes some balls.
Rockefeller is an interesting case study because he was the ultimate robber baron as well as the ultimate philanthropist. The common thought is that he began to give his money away later in life to atone for his sins in business, but there's no evidence to support that theory. As a young man he was a staunch abolitionist and as a dedicated church-goer, he consistently gave a percentage of his income to his charity. He wrote, "I have my earliest ledger and when I was only making a dollar a day, I was giving five, ten, or twenty-five cents to all these objects [charitable causes]." In 1859, at the age of twenty, he contributed money to a black man in Cincinnati so he could buy his wife out of slavery. At twenty, Rockefeller was not a rich man, but he gave to the causes he believed in - he also loved his business and the making of as much profit as possible. He never saw these two things as being mutually exclusive. In fact, he viewed his wealth as a means to do God's work and to help as many people as he could.
Maybe after all of these things, the Rockefeller family did in fact take over the world. Maybe they are an evil family with secret motives that we common folk will never understand. Maybe. What's certain is that if you study and apply the positive aspects of John Rockefeller's life and personality you will undoubtedly see a positive change in your life and financial situation. That's what I care about - everyone else is welcome to keep conspiracy theories.
The most important thing is this: do what you know you should do. Most of you who get this far will probably close the post thinking, "That's obvious, I know that already." Whether or not you finish this post is irrevant; it's mostly a reminder to myself anyway. All I know is that it's a fact, so I'm sharing.
In any area of my life where I struggle, it's invariably because I don't follow this rule. Money, health, relationships, whatever! If I'm not doing what I know I should do, things usually don't work out. You know exactly what I'm talking about.
When you feel your weight starting to increase after a string of bad food choices, you know that you need to start eating better foods. But do you? If you're like most people (including me) you don't and then once your weight is totally out of control you're forced to take drastic measures.
Is your business slumping? You and/or your company probably know what you need to turn things around. Are you doing it? Probably not.
Are you in a bad relationship that you know isn't a good situation? You get the point. It's time to act on what you've thought in your head a million times.
If this was easy, we'd all be rich, fit, and happy - but it is by far the most worthwhile thing to work on. If you got this far, look at your actions throughout the day and take note of how you do. If your actions aren't in line with what you know needs to happen, then start adjusting. I'll do the same.